Sen. Franken's Statement ON Net Neutrality
(As Prepared for Delivery)
M. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to vote against a motion to proceed to Senator Hutchison's joint resolution of disapproval, which would repeal the FCC's net neutrality rules. As many of you know, I have repeatedly said that net neutrality is the free speech issue of our time. I still believe that is the case, and I am here to tell you why we need to do everything we can to stop this partisan resolution in its tracks.
But before I get into the reasons why we should oppose this resolution, I think it is important to step back and remember what the American people expect of us. I don't need to tell anyone in this body that Congress' approval rating is at an all-time low. And why is that? Well, I think it has something to do with the fact that we are using our extremely limited, valuable time to debate partisan proposals like this one, rather than working together to create jobs, stimulate our economy, and get more Americans back to work.
When this resolution of disapproval passed the House back in April, I hoped that would be the end of it. I hoped that my colleagues would recognize that we should let agencies do their jobs-and not employ an arcane procedure to erase a rule that the FCC started thinking about in 2004 under Republican Chairman Michael Powell, and again in 2005 when a different Republican Chairman, this time, Kevin Martin adopted a unanimous policy statement on net neutrality.
When the White House issued a statement indicating the President would veto this resolution of disapproval if it came to his desk, I thought my colleagues would be sensible and would recognize this was not only unnecessary and foolhardy, but it was also a pointless exercise that would be a giant waste of everyone's time.
But alas, that was not the case. And here we are spending valuable time on two resolutions of disapproval, when we should be turning to legislation that will get our economy back up and running again.
I hope the votes we take tomorrow will send a strong message that we need to stop these political stunts and work together to create jobs, jobs, and more jobs.
But let's get to the substance of why I am standing here before you today. I am here today to talk to you about net neutrality.
Net neutrality is a simple concept. It's the idea that all content and applications on the Internet should be treated the same, regardless of who owns the content or the website. This isn't a very radical idea, and it certainly isn't a new idea. You may not realize it, but net neutrality is the foundation and core of how the Internet operates every day - and how it has always operated.
When scientists and engineers were creating the basic architecture of the Internet, they decided they needed to establish some basic rules of the road for Internet traffic. One of the fundamental design principles of the Internet was that all data should be treated equally, regardless of what is being sent or who is sending it. That is net neutrality, folks.
It is the same principle you rely on every day when you use the Internet. And it is the same principle that your phone companies must adhere to when they connect your phone calls. They can't discriminate based on what you say or who you call, and the founders of the Internet thought the same should be true about data traveling across networks. Everything and everyone should be treated the same.
This principle of non-discrimination is baked into the DNA of the Internet. This isn't radical or new. This is about having a platform that is free and open to all-regardless of whether you are a big corporation or a single individual, and regardless of whether you can pay a lot of money to speed up how fast your content gets to your customers.
Net neutrality is what we all experience today when we log on to our computers, and it is what we have always experienced since the very beginning of the Internet.
I think it is important to focus on that point for a minute, because my opponents are telling you something different. And they are wrong. Net neutrality isn't about a government takeover of the Internet. And it isn't about changing anything. Net neutrality, and the rules that the FCC passed, are about keeping the Internet the way it is today, and the way it has always been.
We take for granted that we can access Google's search engine as easily as we can access Yahoo or Bing. Or that Netflix videos download as easily as the videos your friends uploaded onto YouTube last night. We expect that emails arrive at their destinations at the same speed, regardless of who is sending them. And we take for granted that the website for your local pizzeria loads as fast as the website for Dominos or Pizza Hut.
And that is one of the reasons I care so very much about this issue. This isn't just about freedom of speech. It is also about protecting small businesses and entrepreneurs. Net neutrality is and has always been in my mind about protecting the next Bill Gates or the next Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook and Microsoft don't need my help today. But the 20-year old whiz kid working in his parent's garage to develop the app or software or website to revolutionize our lives does need net neutrality. And so does the small bookstore or local hardware store that wants their websites to load just as fast as Amazon or Home Depot.
I like to talk about the beginnings of YouTube, because it is such a powerful example of why we need to protect net neutrality. When YouTube started out, it was "headquartered" in a tiny space over a pizzeria and Japanese restaurant in San Francisco, California. At the time, Google had a competing product, Google Video, that was widely seen as inferior. If Google had been able to pay AT&T or Verizon or Time Warner large amounts of money to block YouTube or to make Google Video's website faster than YouTube's site, guess what would have happened? YouTube would have failed.
But instead, thanks to net neutrality, YouTube became the gold standard for videos on the Internet. And YouTube was able to sell its business to Google for $1.6 billion dollars just two years after its start.
I love that story, because it is a testament to the power of the Internet to turn people with great ideas into overnight successes.
The story of the Internet is a story about the triumph of the little guy over the big, slow-moving corporation. The past 20 years are littered with tales of entrepreneurs starting with next to nothing and revolutionizing the world as we know it. From YouTube's humble beginnings over a pizzeria to Facebook's infamous start in a dorm room in Cambridge, the web-based products we use every day are the result of a great idea and the drive to make that idea a reality.
But here is what you won't hear from my opponents: Facebook and YouTube and countless other web-based products might not have existed today if it weren't for net neutrality.
Without net neutrality, MySpace or Friendster - remember them? - could have partnered with Comcast to gain priority access or to block Facebook altogether. Blockbuster could have paid AT&T to slow down or completely block streaming of Netflix videos. Barnes & Noble could have paid Verizon to block access to Amazon.com. Imagine a world where the corporation with the biggest checkbook can control what you see and how fast you access content on the Internet.
Fortunately, that is not the world we live in today. And thanks to the FCC, that is not the world we are headed for.
The FCC's rules will ensure that no matter how much money or power you have, a young kid working in her parent's basement in Duluth can out-innovate the biggest corporation, simply because she has the best idea.
This is exactly why top Silicon Valley venture capital and angel investment companies support these rules. These companies are the ones funding the next Mark Zuckberg, Larry Page, or Sergey Brin so he can get his product off the ground. They are the ones funneling millions and millions of dollars to entrepreneurs, which is why I think we should listen to them.
The CEOs of eBay, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, and YouTube have all also joined a letter supporting the FCC's rules. They say, and I quote, "Common sense baseline rules are critical to ensuring that the Internet remains a key engine of economic growth, innovation and global competitiveness." Unquote.
I think we should listen to them. And we should listen to companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, IBM, and Qualcomm. These companies also support the FCC's rules, because they recognize that they couldn't have grown to be the tremendously successful companies they are today without a free and open Internet.
When my opponents get up here and tell you that these rules will stifle innovation and halt growth, I want you to think about what they are saying. And I want you to ask yourself, why would so many of the leading technology companies of the last two decades support what the FCC is doing, if they think it will hurt innovation?
It doesn't make any sense, because it just isn't true. Net neutrality and the FCC rules will protect the innovators and entrepreneurs that have made the Internet what it is today. And what it will be tomorrow.
But don't take my word for it. Listen to experts from Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch, and Raymond James. These companies have all stated that they do not believe the FCC's current rules will hurt investment. Citibank said the FCC's rules were "balanced," and Goldman Sachs said they were a "light touch" and created "a framework with a lot of wiggle room."
And what is even more telling is that investment in networks that support wired and wireless Internet has jumped since announcement of the FCC's rules. In fact, investment is more than 10 percent higher in the first half of 2011 than in the same period last year. And venture capital firms poured $2.3 billion into Internet-specific companies in the second quarter of 2011.
These numbers speak for themselves, and they tell a story of surging investor confidence following the FCC's vote on these rules-not the doomsday portrayal you will hear from my opponents.
Protecting innovation in this country is particularly important given the state of the telecom industry today. I don't need to tell you that telecom corporations have grown larger and fewer. You know this, in part because you have seen your cable, Internet, and telephone bills rising and rising and rising. And what else have you seen? Customer service has gone straight out the window.
When you are angry that you wasted another day waiting for a Comcast repairman to come install a cable Internet line in your house, or you are irritated that you have been put on hold by Verizon for the fifth time in a single call, and you finally, finally decide to switch companies, you may realize you don't have another choice.
70 percent of households in this country have only one or two choices for basic broadband Internet service. And the majority-60 percent-of households only have one choice for high-speed broadband.
This is appalling for many reasons. It affects prices, and quality of service, and choice for customers. But it is ultimately why we need net neutrality. Because we need to make sure that companies play by the rules.
As control over the Internet has shifted into the hands of a smaller and smaller number of corporations, we need to make sure that those companies aren't able to dictate the speed of traffic based on how much a content provider can pay. Or prioritize their own content over other companies' content.
Of course, as I've said before, there's nothing wrong with maximizing shareholder profit. That is what corporations are obligated to do, and Minnesota is home to many great corporations, including 3M, General Mills, and Medtronic. These companies create thousands of jobs and produce fantastic products.
But no corporation should be allowed to prevent others from competing. And competition is what net neutrality is all about. It's about ensuring that the next breakthrough product has the opportunity to reach consumers through a free, open, and equal Internet.
But in addition to protecting innovation and small businesses in this country, net neutrality is also about speech. The Internet isn't just where you go to shop for local products and services. The Internet is also where you go to find political campaign information, and to read local news stories. The Internet is what helped fuel the Arab Spring, in large part because it has become the soap box of the 21st century. Organizers and advocates are no longer stapling posters to bulletin boards. To get their message out, they are now posting their messages on Twitter and Facebook.
But the Internet isn't just responsible for an upheaval in how campaigns and advocacy occur, it is also responsible for an upheaval in the print media world, because the Internet is also the printing press and library of the 21st century.
This is why it is so important that we make sure that the corporations providing you Internet service play by the rules and aren't able to profit by speeding up or slowing down your access to certain news websites-or other places you go to access information. We wouldn't have wanted the Libyan government to shut down access to Facebook in the middle of protests in that country, for the same reasons that we do not want a corporation controlling what information and websites you are able to access to benefit their bottom line.
Now, you know that I've been a proponent of net neutrality for a long time. You've heard me say over and over again how net neutrality is about keeping the Internet the way it is. But the truth of the matter is that the FCC rules, while a step in the right direction, are very conservative.
I wish the FCC had done more. But the FCC wanted to reach a consensus, and they made a concerted effort to address many concerns of telecommunications companies large and small when they drafted these rules.
For my opponents to now claim that the FCC ignored public opinion or failed to consider the impact that these rules would have on businesses is just not true.
First, I think we could all stand a bit of history on the bipartisan nature of this issue. Net neutrality was something two Republican Chairmen of the FCC, Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, championed in 2004 and 2005. Chairman Powell first articulated a set of net neutrality principles, and then Chairman Martin, a year later, achieved unanimous Commission endorsement of the FCC's Open Internet policy statement. In 2006, 11 House Republicans voted in favor of net neutrality on the floor. And the Guns Owners of America, the Christian Coalition, and the Catholic Bishops joined with the ACLU, MoveOn.org, and the leading civil rights groups to advocate for the same principles of openness and freedom on the Internet.
This debate started 7 years ago, and only after reviewing more than 100,000 public comments and holding six public workshops, did the Commission finally issue a rule. To claim that this was premature, or rushed, or not carefully considered, is just plain wrong.
I also think it is completely inaccurate for my opponents to claim that the Commission never analyzed the costs and benefits of this rule. In fact, there is an entire section of the rule entitled, quote "The Benefits of Protecting the Internet's Openness Exceed the Costs." Unquote.
I urge my colleagues to read this section of the Commission's order. It covers four pages and contains over 25 lengthy, detailed, analytical footnotes. It is clear that the Commission considered the costs and benefits of acting, and they concluded that, quote, "There is no evidence that prior open Internet obligations have discouraged investment," unquote. And that, quote, "open Internet rules will increase incentives to invest in broadband infrastructure."
I recognize that a couple of companies are challenging the FCC's rules in court, and they have every right to do so. But this resolution of disapproval amounts to little more than political gamesmanship from a small number of fringe organizations. I think it is important to note that not a single large telecom company supports this resolution of disapproval. They aren't wasting their time with an arcane process, and we shouldn't be either.
That's not to say Congress can't and shouldn't have a discussion about the merits of net neutrality. We can, and we should. But I have frankly been disappointed by the quantity of misinformation that has been such a large portion of this debate in the past.
The rhetoric I heard during the House debate last April was disappointing and is not the type of debate Americans deserve. I encourage a frank and in-depth discussion on net neutrality, and I hope that one day soon we will consider making a statutory change to the FCC's authority that will clarify that we want the FCC to make sure the Internet stays free and open. That will put this issue to rest for good, and is frankly the process we should be relying on. By forcing an up or down vote through the Congressional Review Act, we are short circuiting the normal legislative process, and ignoring the FCC's tremendous work on this issue.
This resolution of disapproval is a procedural stunt that wastes our limited time, which should be used to address the real problems that Americans face every day.
And at the end of the day, the problems of Americans are why we're here. I love hearing from Minnesotans, and I got a really great email the other day. The letter was from a group of five self-proclaimed "highly-credentialed computer geeks," including a professor, a start-up founder, an "ex Google-er" and a "non-ex-IBM-er." In their email, they wrote that, "The free market will drive innovation in the Internet, but careful regulation is needed to preserve the freedom of the markets from coalitions of companies that will seek to reduce competition."
They noted that, and I quote, "history promises that the leading companies will work together to create a monopoly that they can control so they can make more money... and disrupt innovation." Unquote.
I'm glad they and thousands of Minnesotans have taken the time to write and call in to tell me how much preserving net neutrality means to them. These highly-credentialed computer geeks are right: the free market will drive Internet innovation, as long as that market is truly free and open: free from corporate control and open to all content providers equally.
These constituents and millions of Americans don't want Congress engaged in political sparring matches designed to appease a few vocal critics. Americans, entrepreneurs, and small businesses want a world where the future Twitters, eBays, and Amazons of the world can grow and thrive, without interference from big mega conglomerates.
If passed, this resolution will hurt consumers, stifle innovation, and create uncertainty in one of America's most innovative and productive sectors. We are at a pivotal moment, and I hope my colleagues will recognize this and join with me in voting down this resolution of disapproval.
Thank you, M. President, and I yield the floor.